The wealth of sports talent, knowledge, dedication and commitment in the region was on display Saturday night at Bear Mountain, as the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame inducted its class of 2019.
Olympic and Paralympic athletes, a top international fastball pitcher, an international level coach and official, the Victoria Motorcycle Club and a veteran local broadcaster all gained entry to this exclusive club.
Ryan Cochrane, these days building a real estate business after a fruitful career winning Olympic and World Championship swimming medals, ended his competitive career as Canada’s most decorated swimmer – his eight medals at the worlds are most by a Canadian swimmer – yet sounded thrilled with this latest honour.
|Ryan Cochrane with a Pan-Am Games gold medal in Toronto. Photo by Scott Grant/Swimming Canada|
“I grew up looking up to a lot of the people who have been inducted,” he said. “It’s not something you think about when you’re an athlete … [but] time really brings it into perspective. This is kind of the cherry on top, to be able to look back and say ‘it was a really great ride.'”
A little distance away from the pool and the deck at Saanich Commonwealth Place – “I’ve smelled like chlorine for too long” – has also given him time to reflect on things.
“It’s so much more about the journey… don’t get me wrong, the medals are fantastic; but it’s more about what it took to get there and who were the people that supported you and the journey, more than the accolades.”
Another hometown athlete-inductee, Mike Piechnik, was one of the world’s top fastball pitchers in the late 80’s and 1990s. But his story can truly be considered one of local history’s great comebacks.
Piechnik explains: “In 1991, I was 41 and it was the year after the back surgery that I thought was career ending. But it wasn’t,” he said with a grin.
He enjoyed most of his success after the surgery, leading his Victoria teams to multiple B.C. and Canadian championships, Pan American Games gold and International Softball Federation medals. The pitcher of back-to-back perfect games and owner of multiple strikeout records, he wound up playing competitively until 2007.
Being honoured for his accomplishments in this way was not lost on the big lefty. “This is home, and that’s huge – it’s home. And it’s not just softball, it’s all sport. I’m incredibly honoured to be here with the athletes and coaches that are here.
Also honoured during the evening were Paralympic sailing teammates John McRoberts and Stacie Louttit, who won bronze in the two-person keelboat at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and just missed the podium in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
“We had a lot of great times and to be very good friends still, after all that, is very special and it kind of brought that closer for us as well,” McRoberts said of earning a place in the Hall of Fame.
McRoberts, who won sailing silver at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta when it was a demonstration sport, says of his introduction to Paralympic sailing in Esquimalt, “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
He met Louttit a number of years later and got her into the sport. While she reluctantly committed to the training program, already having a busy life with family and career, she fell in love with the sport, she said.
She and McRoberts eventually found themselves in a boat together, Louttit said. “In sailing it’s important to gel as a team … so we worked on that and were able to have synergy.”
Also honoured in the athlete category was 19-year men’s field hockey national team member Rob Short. His 364 caps in international play at the Olympic, World Cup, Pan-Am and Commonwealth Games levels come in handy now that he’s coaching Team Canada.
In the coaches and officials category international figure skating judge Susan Morriss and Olympic and World Championship distance running coach Wynn Gmitroski were inducted, while the Metchosin-based Victoria Motorcycle Club goes into the builders category.
Longtime CHEK-TV sports director Alex Robertson, who mostly sat in the sports anchor’s chair between 1974 and 2003 received the Sid Thomas Media Award for his dedication to covering the local sports scene.
To find a complete list of current and past inductees, visit gvshof.ca.